"The best speakers know enough to be scared...the only difference between the pros and novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation." ~ Edward R. Murrow
I have a little secret - all my life I have had a terrible battle with stage fright. Job interviews, first dates, meeting new friends, first day of class. Any new experience with new people has me quaking in my boots for weeks beforehand. I combat this with a brave face and decent acting skills, but it's painful. In college, I lost 10 pounds in a week preparing for the play, Agnes of God. I kept getting sick right before every rehearsal and then right before every show. I have a hard time watching debates on TV because I get sympathy stage fright!
This weekend I read the book Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. The book is riotously funny and Berkun is an endearingly honest writer. He makes no bones about the knocks he gets for his profession, and yet his humor brings about such a sense of respect and admiration for what he does day in and day out to earn a living.
The quote by Edward R. Murrow is one of my favorites that Berkun uses, and the chapter of the book that follows this quote is better yet. Berkun lists the top 14 fears people indicated in a recent survey. Speaking before a group was the greatest fear people had. Death was #7, loneliness was #9, and escalators was #14. Crazy when we consider that for the most part we can avoid speaking in public, and we can't avoid things like, oh, death. We're most afraid of something we can control. What does that say about us?
Recognizing the ludicrous ranking, Berkun goes on to talk about his own fear of public speaking, and the fear of speaking publicly that many of the world's notable speakers have (Bono, Elvis, JFK, and Barbara Walters to name just a few.) The trick isn't eradicating the fear; it's figuring out how to use it to our best advantage that counts. Get the butterflies to fall in line. For me, my fear is best used to teach and my defense is to prepare, prepare, prepare. And if you're thinking about that ol' "imagine everyone in their underwear" trick, Berkun will give you his perspective on why that is a very, very bad idea.
In Confessions of a Public Speaker, I realized that the fear of public speaking is really about being afraid we just aren't enough. Essentially, public speakers of every variety stand up there and put themselves in the perfect position to be knocked down and dragged by the hair to the back of the room. They tell themselves "what if I'm not good enough, smart enough, or entertaining enough?" The fear of public speaking is really the fear of not being accepted for who we are.
Later on in the book, Berkun discusses the reasons people go to hear public speakers, including the desire to learn something, be inspired, and have a positive experience they can share with others. Simple reasons really, and when looked at through the lens of "give the people what they want", the butterflies begin to work together to create one gorgeous pattern, each lending their own unique flair. For the many of us who suffer from stage fright, I'm convinced that Berkun is on to something here.